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Camp Cook and Vandenberg Air Force Base, 1941–1966

Camp Cook and Vandenberg Air Force Base, 1941–1966 by Jeffrey E. Geiger. McFarland Books, 2014, 284 pp.


Mr. Jeffrey E. Geiger has compiled a thorough and dense book fully covering in great detail the history of this former Army post, now Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB), California. Admittedly, the book could have been a dryer read; however, Mr. Geiger tries to parse the facts and details with plenty of pictures to help the reader visualize the base and what the author describes. The book contains seven appendices to supplement the details in the chapters.

He covers the early beginnings of the base from drinking water being trucked in to the tent cities. The sheer amount of detail included should appeal to anyone with a direct connection to the area during the covered time period. Mr. Geiger walks through the different phases of the base from World War II to the time period between then and the Korean War to the changing mission of the base.

Mr. Geiger begins his book with a thorough coverage of the construction of Camp Cooke, which easily merges with his account of the WWII era. He goes into great detail covering the bareness of the camp, chemical warfare training, Women’s Army Corps, and even religious services. My opinion was that while he covers such broad topics, he does struggle to go into much depth, and the book takes a more analytical tone rather than a flowing story. To his credit, I thought he provided one of the better, more concise summaries of WWII I have read at his conclusion of his second chapter.

Mr. Geiger gives an interesting account of the reinstatement of Camp Cooke during the brief Korean War years. I thought it was particularly interesting how much detail he covered the base education program. I have not heard another account of a military installation having such a widespread program to help its enlisted personnel obtain a GED or diploma.

I did not care much for Mr. Geiger’s chapter on the “Organized Entertainment of Camp Cooke.” The chapter comes off forced with almost every paragraph ending with a citation, which admittedly is probably a blessing and a curse. The chapter may give the chronology of every service member who came through Camp Cooke. From a strictly reference point of view, this is a good chapter, but even among academic circles, I am not sure how much interest there is in the Camp Cooke guest book.

The saving grace of the book for most air- and space-minded people is Mr. Geiger’s sections on the transfer of Camp Cooke to the Air Force and the subsequent repurpose of the base toward a new, space mission. The treatise of this section flowed much better and told a neat story of the development of what we know as Vandenberg AFB. The descriptions of launch accidents on Vandenberg and the particularly funny story of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev riding a train through the missile complex were interesting. This is the chapter that most people will purchase the book for, and it was the reason I chose to read this book. The references were plentiful and enough to further investigate if the reader desired.

The book has several overall strengths. I think most people will appreciate the citations and references. I also think the use of imagery (maps and photos) helps drive home what Mr. Geiger is writing about. The coverage of the early history of Vandenberg AFB (space launch and missile tests) was a strong portion of the read. The academic value is certainly high for those trying to establish a very thorough chronology of Camp Cooke/Vandenberg AFB.

Alternatively, Camp Cooke and Vandenberg AFB, 1941–1966 has some weaknesses that hurt the overall book from my perspective. The global tone is reminiscent of a textbook, which made the relatively short book a harder read than it should have been. More to this point, I felt some of the topics covered, such as the section on the entertainment of Camp Cooke, read like a guest book of who stopped by the post. As a reader, I was not interested in a guest list, but more so in the historical value of Camp Cooke and Vandenberg. I would have liked more coverage of the importance of the Army and Air Force presence in the area rather than covering things like the Hollywood stars who visited and performed during WWII.

By and large, this book will not appeal to everyone, but it is a something that would be a great addition to any commander’s library at Vandenberg AFB. Additionally, this is probably the most comprehensive book on Camp Cooke and is certainly supported with the numerous citations. I would have liked to have seen more coverage of Vandenberg, but given the topic and years covered, it had an appropriate amount of detail. Very informative read—sometimes dry—but this will be a great reference book if ever needed in the future. 

1st Lt Glenn R. Peterson, USAF
Minot AFB, North Dakota

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

 
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